It’s a Wonderful Life. That’s not a statement by the way. It’s a referral to the Frank Capra classic that turned 75 years last year. And like many of you, I’m sure, I watched it again over Christmas with the family, but this time it had a different flavor and I saw something different in it, obviously fueled by the situation and the circumstances that we find ourselves in currently.
To me this time round, when I looked at it, it was altogether a bit darker and it was underpinned by uncertainty and fragility and how life is like that. George Bailey is a big dreamer. He dreams of adventures way beyond the small town Bedford Falls, but his dreams and aspirations throughout the movie, are thwarted at every turn, and just when he thought he’d scaled every hurdle, his hope is dashed again, one more time. And it’s an illustration of the fragility of life. In one scene, he and his brother are playing on the ice, the ice breaks, and his brother nearly drowns. In another scene, he’s dancing with his sweetheart, Mary. The dance floor, owing to a prankster, starts to pull apart and starts to separate beneath their feet, without their awareness, until ultimately they fall headlong into the swimming pool underneath.
In a world where the ground can literally be taken from under our feet at a moment’s notice, how do we as leaders, lead ourselves and others? The only thing we know for sure, is that we don’t know, and we don’t even know a time when we will know. So in a world where we may never know, this episode is dedicated to, at the beginning of 2023, a Manifesto of 25 principles for leading through the chaos of ’23, on how best to manage and lead.
So let’s get started.
Number one, get comfortable with uncomfortable. Chaos and uncertainty run counter to our human need for control. But chaos is also a natural and necessary step, as we transition from one state of order to another. Just like you can’t take a shower without getting wet, feel the discomfort, certainly, but recognize the chaos is also evidence of progress, and one step closer to where we want to go. The chaos doesn’t last forever, it will pass, and meantime it’s okay not to feel ok.
Concentrate on strengths. Do you, and your significant people, get to do what you do best every day. Nobody is great at everything. Even the most talented leaders spike in just one or two areas. Concentrate your time and effort on knowing and strengthening your superpower, and the superpower of those around you, because no matter how much you work on your kryptonite, it will still be kryptonite.
Don’t compromise on your values. If you do, you may gain in the short term, but conceding on your values will continually aggravate you like a stone in your shoe, and one you can never take off.
Hold your assumptions lightly, not tightly. In a world that’s so volatile, ambiguous, and fragilely balanced, yesterday’s firm convictions can rapidly become tomorrow’s fallacies. Reevaluate your assumptions on a regular basis, and hold them lightly, not tightly.
Use your imagination wisely. What distinguishes you from all other mammals, is the unique gift of imagination. Use it to create the future you want, not to catastrophize, worry and fret.
Look for the good in the bad. Without challenge, there can be no growth. Adversity may not be comfortable at the time, but even if you don’t win, you can at least learn. In the words of Douglas Malloch, “good timber does not grow with ease, the stronger wind, the stronger trees”. However, just like mining, what we encounter in adversity is mostly dirt. To find the gold, you’ve got to look for it.
Iterate. You will never, ever get to perfect, but you can always get to better. If you want more success, then double your failure rate, and iterate. As Beckett said ” ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” After all the world belongs to the successful dissatisfieds that continually iterate.
“Begin anywhere”. This is the advice of John Cage, experimental American musician, advising on how to start composing when there’s no playbook, no right way, no blueprint and no right answers. To avoid the paralysis, just start, and begin anywhere, no matter. As psychologist, George Saluki expressed it, “do the thing and you shall have power”.
Beware your comparative mind. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
Continually ask why. Whilst we are learning, we are conscious. Once mastered, it becomes unconscious. However, unconsciously repeating something we’ve mastered that is no longer useful, is the quickest way to extinction. When you are stuck, asking why is the fastest way to break the deadlock. And routinely asking why, is the fastest way to efficiency.
Manage your impact. And speaking of why, a very useful question is always, why should anyone be led by you? Nobody, by the way, sets out to be a poor leader. And coupled with that, leaders routinely overestimate their own ability. Leadership is an away game, not a home game. Forget momentarily about yourself and instead, pay close attention, and try to improve your impact on others. People judge you and your leadership, not by your good intentions, but by your impact.
Stay calm. In times of turbulence, people more than ever look to their leader for guidance, holding their breath. They pay scrutinous attention and take their cues from you. And nobody needs a nervous pilot.
Create a safe environment. Every organization or team is the extension of the leader’s shadow. You set the tone by what you promote and what you permit. Ensure mostly that the environment is one where everyone feels comfortable to say what’s on their mind.
Communicate for your audience, not for yourself. You don’t need to persuade you, you need to persuade them. You already understand they don’t. So craft your message in their language, in a way they can understand. Create from your side, but through their eyes. Throw open the door, don’t barricade the entrance.
Listen for implications, not the situation. People don’t resist change, they resist the implications of change for them. They don’t resist you. Truly, you’re not that important. They resist what you represent to them. People don’t fear the pandemic, what they fear are the implications of the pandemic for them. So get curious and listen for the implications to them of the situation, and it will transform your conversations and your connection with others.
Be Agreeable. One of the most underrated qualities is that of agreeability. It costs nothing to be nice, polite, and pleasant with others. And there’s no downside. The upside is that more people are moved to work with people that are likable and it builds valuable social capital. Being agreeable by the way, is not the same as being a pushover, as it’s backed by the principle that no one is either above or beneath you. As Michael Caine once put it, “I’ve met many equals, no betters”.
Schedule what’s important. You must decide both what’s important and schedule the time for it, every day or every week or every month. As the old Japanese proverb goes, “vision without action is a daydream, action without vision, is a nightmare”.
Take back control. Ration your social media. Many very skilled and very clever people are paid very well to lull you into following their path and stealthily controlling how you spend your time. Take every opportunity to reduce their opportunity.
Stay golden. Look after number one. Only a golden goose can produce golden eggs. As a leader, you’re both the strongest and the weakest link. You are also the number one influence on the performance of the team, which is index linked to your capacity to produce. The speed of the leader after all, is the speed of the group. Mind yourself as a constant priority and do whatever it takes to stay golden mentally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
Indulge your downtime. Spend more time on the balcony and less on the dance floor. Some of your greatest thinking is done when you’re not thinking.
Remember that happiness is about three things, something to do, something to look forward to and someone to love.
Finally, choose consciously and wisely, because the only thing you ever truly control in life, is not the situation, but your response in the moment, to the situation. This is uniquely human, and can never be taken away.
I hope you find some or all of this useful. You’ll probably have your favorites, but at least this gives us some blueprint and guideline for how to be, for the next 12 months and beyond. If you liked it, or you’d like to, please get in touch, find me on LinkedIn and connect. I’d be very interested in any observations or comments that you have.
And may the odds, in 2023, through the 25 principles, always be in your favor.
Until the next time stay safe. Stay sane. Stay connected.
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